FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Tens of thousands of families in the Central Valley rely on our public school buses. For many years drivers in California have been required to stop when school buses have their red lights flashing or a mechanical stop sign activated. Yet how many drivers actually follow the law?
"It's a great deal of safety they have to go through beforehand dealing with kids, dealing with traffic, all types of weather conditions, it all plays a part. From the inside of the bus to the outside of the bus safety is number one," said Reggie Ruben, Fresno Unified's Director of Transportation.
Fresno Unified's 99 buses log roughly 1.5 million miles a year. From pick up and drop off to heading out to school activities off campus. Ruben said school buses drive through neighborhoods and on highways with up to 78 students on board.
At least once a month Fresno Unified reports one of their buses is involved in an accident. Often, it's the other driver at fault. Just two weeks ago a pickup truck collided with a school bus in Madera, ejecting and hospitalizing the driver of the school bus. Fresno Unified's first crash of the year happened on the first day of school.
Ruben said, "I immediately get a call from a driver saying that she had been in an accident. A vehicle came too close to the bus and sideswiped the bus."
We followed along on one of Fresno Unified's busy bus routes. At the very first stop of the day our cameras caught two cars violating the law. In California drivers must come to a complete stop when the school bus has red flashing lights or extends a mechanical stop sign, these cars did not.
"It's against the law for not only to not stop, but it's against the law for the bus driver not to put on those flashing reds. So first of all, don't get mad at the bus driver-- they're doing their job-- but secondly to protect the kids," said Capt. Andy Hall, Fresno Police Traffic Division.
The school bus made more than eight stops for three different schools that day. Most of the other drivers did wait to pass until the red lights stopped flashing. A majority of drivers also were patient and didn't drive erratic around the school bus. Still, there were others that just couldn't wait for the red lights to stop flashing. For instance, one stop on Gettysburg near First where two cars quickly drove past the bus even though the stop sign was out. Another white truck at a different stop also violated the law.
The ticket for failing to stop when a school bus has it's stop sign out or red lights flashing costs upwards of $600.
"But the consequences are so big when you make a mistake with children involved," said Hall.
School bus driver Jennifer Moren said she nearly got hit by a car just last month.
"I went to make sure all traffic stops before I call them out to have them cross between the bus and I. And before I could even do that and have a crosser come over I watched a vehicle accelerate and actually felt the wind of the vehicle come behind me and I was already out in the middle of the street with the stop sign. So even me physically being out there and the lights activated it didn't stop them."
Before the doors open, and bus drivers can get behind the wheel, they must complete intensive training. Their number one goal is to keep these kids safe."
"I understand it takes just a little bit longer to get to where you're going, but if we could just get a little cooperation and patience it makes it that much safer for our kids," said Moren.
That few minutes it takes to stop could mean all the difference for a student who's just trying to get to school or home.